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Ralph Phelps chaired the Board of Public Utilities for Los Alamos and was becoming more involved with county government activities when a vacancy opened on county council last year. Phelps had become interested in getting more involved so he applied, he said.
County Council appointed Phelps in January 2009 to fill the vacancy created by the resignation of Jim West. West resigned because he was battling cancer. He recently lost his battle.
Phelps expressed enthusiasm for serving another four years after
experiencing a year of life as a councilor.
“I found it to be very rewarding. My experience with the county council is all of us are practicing good team work and that makes it a good working environment,” he said.
Phelps explained that he believes the most effective performance of any diverse group, whether elected or appointed, is achieved when all members function as a team, with professional attitudes toward each other and with a focus on the best interests of the entire community.
Three areas in which Phelps said he feels he makes significant contributions to the council are:
• The business perspective he brings from his senior management experience;
• the perspective he brings from having lived and worked in other areas of the country; and
• an independent viewpoint from having not worked for Los Alamos National Laboratory or the Department of Energy.
Phelps retired as division manager of engineering from the Omaha Public Power District and has held engineering management positions with Southern California Edison, Combustion Engineering and during his service in the U.S. Air Force at Kirtland Air Force Base.
Phelps said there are a number of things he would like to see come to pass that were a driving force in making his decision to run.
He wants to promote the use of best business practices for:
• controlling costs in project contracts;
• performance measures;
• strategic planning; and
• lessons learned.
Phelps advocates open communication saying it’s important to not only openly present information, but to also ensure the content of the information represents a broad and complete picture for each issue.
“I want to try to get better open communication with the citizens and by that I mean both ways,” he said.
Phelps wants to remain on council to help ensure the new Municipal Building is built on schedule and within the budget and to see work get started on the Trinity Site retail projects.
“I also want to make sure we’re ready to respond to external events that can affect Los Alamos such as state actions on revenue and federal actions on DOE funding,” he said.
“Those would be my focus areas that I would like to concentrate over the next four years.”
The challenge serving on council is to really stay focused on policy level issues and leadership level issues, he said.
“Also, I find it challenging to be able to communicate with the citizens and hear their perspectives. The more people we can hear from the more effective I think it is,” he said.
Phelps recounted his contributions on council during the last year.
“I was able to provide some strong influence in our termination of the contract with Boyer. I also had a strong influence in supporting the process improvement program we suggested county staff put in place to identify cost saving measures over the next two years as part of our strategic plan,” he said.
Phelps is a registered professional engineer. He holds a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering from Manhattan College in New York and has a master’s degree in nuclear engineering from the University of Virginia.
He married wife Linda 37 years ago. They met at a dance held at the Newman Center on the UNM campus in Albuquerque. Linda’s family was in Farmington and she was studying at UNM. He was stationed at Kirtland AFB.
They moved to Los Alamos five-and-a-half years ago. She is director of grief counseling at French Funerals in Albuquerque. The couple lives in White Rock with a 3-year-old Pit Bull named Bella.
Their son Josh, 31, is a chiropractor in Ogden, Utah. Their daughter Jenny, 28, teaches fourth grade at Barranca Mesa Elementary.
The Phelps enjoy hiking and camping and taking backcountry trips.